Five years ago, I arranged a meeting with twenty family members. I was to announce that I would begin to present to the world as a woman.
As soon as everyone saw me in person and realized that I was really going to transition my gender and begin living as a woman, my religious Aunt Holly and her husband Carl, both conservative Christians who ran a church together, were triggered by my coming out.
They criticized my choice as “sinful” and “immoral” and told me they would,
“pray for my soul.”
I was so offended by their comments that I lashed out at them by saying they were “too different from me, for us to ever get along again.” I swore I’d never show up to another holiday gathering at their house despite their culinary talents. I then went into my bedroom and sulked for several hours.
I remember blaming them for the hurtful event which transpired, blaming them for my emotional triggers, blaming their close-mindedness and dissimilar views towards the GLBT community as a source for their lack of compassion and understanding.
My rationalization to avoid my Aunt Holly and Uncle Carl solidified when they visited my parents for lunch two weeks later. I was newly out as a transgender woman, on hormones, and seeing a therapist while in the midst of healing 30 plus years of unprocessed emotions. I slept in late, wasn’t working at the time, and came downstairs to join them in the dining area a quarter past noon.
Upon hearing that I was living off my parents’ money and out late dancing at night, Aunt Holly said:
“You need to start serving other people, so you’ll have a purpose again. You should put all that energy towards others rather than on indulging yourself all the time. Getting a job and moving out would be good first steps for you to take.”
I told her she had no right to judge me, and that she didn’t know what I was going through or what she was talking about.
I was furious and ashamed that she believed I was a slacker, a loser who refused to grow up while milking my parents for all they were worth as I let my aerospace engineering degree go to waste by crying victim because I was queer. As long as I had my safety net by living with my parents, I could avoid anything that upset me in the world, and I was content with slacking, putting my own laziness and comfort as top priority.
“After that stunt, she pulled in front of the family when she called my transgender nature and feminine heart a sin, who did that religious bigot think she was to judge me?” I thought to myself.
There was a huge flurry of disagreement and worry after President-Elect Donald Trump won the election and picked Steve Bannon for the Chief Strategist position in the White House. The result: a rise in hate crimes against the Muslim and GLBT communities, increased outspokenness by the White Supremacist organizations, in addition to countless anti-Trump protests across blue states, with California even discussing a possibility of Cal-Exit.
A big cause for the rising tension and escalated violence in an ever politically divided nation lies in the erroneous fallacy that those whose belief structures differ from theirs, particularly in political and religious aspects, cannot get along with each other.
The first thing we are taught, and often what comes naturally as an initial response, is the concept that when others hurt us or trigger our unwanted feelings, that they are the ones to blame. While growing up, I often wanted any unpleasant interaction or stimulus to go away, such as an annoying classmate who differed in their opinions or views, usually by trying to convince them my way was the right way, the only way.
I wanted my life to return back to the moment before I was triggered. Before my mind was forced to think and see differing views, then what was inside the narratives already found in my own head. I wanted the ketchup to go back in the bottle, wanted the world to return to how it was moments before I saw something unexpected and new.
That is the same mentality which can reverse progress and diversity. The same mentality that drives the rhetoric of “making America great again” by turning back the rights of women to abortion, the rights of GLBT people to get married, and the rights of immigrants to stay in a country they’ve worked so hard to assimilate in.
Rarely was I told while growing up that listening to and embracing our own needed growth from personal triggers that arose, meant that I needed to abandon the desire for a quick fix of silencing others and instead go inward, on my own journey of healing and growth for a deeper understanding of myself.
Healing takes time.
It takes compassion and openness towards change and what’s different by letting go of the old and allowing the new to take its place.
Above all else, it takes patience.
For me, healing meant that when I calmed down from being triggered, I had the choice to investigate what caused Aunt Holly and Uncle Carl’s comments to bother me so much.
It meant choosing to let their comments spawn the growth I needed to empower myself rather than lashing out at them during every family gathering.
It meant letting go of my grudges and finding my sense of individuality and responsibility by being a contributor rather than a slacker.
It meant moving away from the victimization mode my ego had so thoroughly used against me and owning my feminine heart by living as my authentic self with pride and confidence.
It meant dropping my grudges and showing up at family events as my feminine self, showcasing my persistent truth not with force, but with grace and an open heart and to allow everyone time to embrace the changes I had undergone and to learn and heal on their own time in their own way.
A few months ago, on a work night, I needed a place to get ready for a cabaret show I was attending. My aunt’s house was located between my job and the theater; it would save me a trip home during rush hour traffic, and she generously offered me a space to doll up. When I walked out of the bathroom, she and Uncle Carl were standing in the hallway, and they said something I never thought I would have heard from them during my lifetime:
“You look so beautiful,” said Aunt Holly.
“You have blossomed into a mature and elegant woman,” added Uncle Carl.
I thanked them and gave them both a teary-eyed hug and headed out.
The reciprocation of our mutual growth and respect for different political beliefs and life views as a contrasting cast consisting of a queer, lesbian transgender woman and conservative Christian relatives was affirmed recently when my father announced that everyone would be going back to Taiwan to visit my grandma for her 90th birthday. But then the news came that Aunt Holly, grandma’s unspoken favorite out of her six children, had broken her kneecap and shattered her patella when she tripped on their garden hose. She was recovering at a hospital a few blocks from my work after a successful surgery in which implanted titanium screws put the five pieces of her kneecap back together.
Knowing how unappetizing hospital food was and how disappointed Aunt Holly must have been to know she was unable to attend the upcoming family event, I decided to ask if she would like me to bring her her favorite In-N-Out burger or some dessert. She declined food but welcomed a visit from me, so I did the second best thing I could think of: I brought pictures of my niece and nephew and played videos of the rowdy four and six-year-olds from my cell phone, bringing her to tears.
The beauty wasn’t just about the burger at the hospital or the compliment I received in their hallway.
It was about the work we both put in to understand our triggers and how we owned our differences.
Our continuous common humanity, the things that made us connect rather than divisive, strengthened and shined as we showed compassion and respect for our differences.